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Women in Translation Bingo

26 Jun

The Seattle Public Library and Seattle Arts & Lectures launched Summer Book Bingo in Seattle this month. I got all excited, printing out my card and jotting a book in each category I want to read, for example:

Checked out from the library: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Collection of short stories: The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol

Banned: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

There are 24 categories in all. Librarians are on hand to make recommendations. Thanks to them, I’ve added V is for Vendetta and Eleanor and Park to my reading list!

Because of my already ambitious reading plans for the summer, including Women in Translation Month, I’m not aiming for a blackout, just BINGO. But it occurred to me. Book Bingo is endlessly adaptable. What about Women in Translation Bingo? Each category satisfied by a book in translation, by a woman.

I made my own card, based on SPL & SAL’s card, simply swapping out Set in the NW, Translated from another language, and local author for Author 10+ years older than you, From a culture you want to know more about, and International bestseller. Then I really nerded out, thinking about Linguistic Diversity Bingo, based on language families. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. One Book Bingo at a time.

If you’re planning to participate in Women in Translation Month (I hope you are!) this would be a fun way to do it.

What books are you reading this summer?

BINGO!

BINGO!

Women in Translation

25 Jun

August is Women in Translation Month (WITMonth), designed to encourage readers, reviewers, publishers, and translators to explore more books in translation by women. If you’ve been following the VIDA count, then the grim statistics around women in translation (gathered diligently by Meytal Radzinski) is, unfortunately, not a surprise: women writers comprise only about 30% of books translated into English. As I’m passionate about cultivating a diverse literary ecosystem, this is a project near and dear to my heart. And though I’m happy WITMonth is an annual event, I’m getting started right now. Because there are SO MANY good books and I’m sure there are SO MANY MORE out there waiting to be picked up by a publisher and gobbled by readers.

I immediately pulled all the books from my shelves that fit the bill. I made a read pile and a to-be-read pile. Of the read pile, I’d like to make some recommendations, for those of you who’d like to join me in WITMonth. Read these books! And I’ll be diving into the to-be-read pile and writing about the gems in that pile in August. Read those books too! Let’s talk about ’em!

Recommended Books

Tasty pile of books in translation

Tasty pile of books in translation.

Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from Catalan by Martha Tennent (Open Letter, 2009). A gorgeously written and harrowing novel about cruelty among humans and violence in nature.

Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante, translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, 2005). A dark, slender novel about a woman abandoned by her husband spiraling into terrifying psychological territory, with a helpful dash of absurd humor and redemption. After devouring this book, anything else was VERY difficult to get into. So good. This brief review in The New Yorker is spot on. I have not cracked open her more recent Neapolitan series, but it is definitely on the docket.

The End of the Story by Liliana Heker, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger (Biblioasis, 2012). Another dark novel. I’m sensing a trend? This metafictional work explores Argentina’s Dirty War. I reviewed it for Ploughshares.

Death as a Side Effect by Ana Maria Shua, translated from Spanish by Andrea G. Labinger (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). As I note briefly in my review of Heker’s novel, Shua‘s is “dark and wry and screwed up in the best possible dystopian way.” Is it weird to quote myself? Oh well.

Dreams and Stones by Magdalena Tulli, translated from Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books, 2004). I adore Archipelago for focusing on translation and producing truly beautiful books. Dreams and Stones is probably the least dark book on my list, a kind of treatise on cities and imagination.

Mile End by Lise Tremblay, translated from French by Gail Scott (Talon Books, 2002). I read this novel a few times, starting in a class in college on literary Montreal. It’s set in the neighborhood I lived in while at McGill, which may be part of my attachment to it. And, yes, yes, this is another dark story, about an obese pianist at a ballet school teetering toward psychosis.

The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller, translated from German by Michael Hoffman (Metropolitan Books, 1996). Muller, winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature, paints a grim picture of life in Romania under Ceausescu. The language is highly poetic, and I’ve been working on an essay about it (among other things) for quite some time. In fact, the assignment I’ve given myself for the next few weeks is to cut that essay up paragraph by paragraph to figure out how to keep going with it.

Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta by Aglaja Veteranyi, translated from German by Vincent Kling (Dalkey Archive Press, 2012). Told from the point of view of an unnamed young woman, this is the story of Romanian refugees who travel through Europe as circus performers. Yes, yes, dark. But also with absurd humor. (Some criticize Muller for being humorless. I say, bah. Read her still. Not everything is funny ha ha.)

Phew. That’s a lot of recommendations. There are more in my pile. I may write more about them. More likely I will tweet my favorite bits from them in August. But not just August. Probably all year. WITForever!

My To-Be-Read Pile. Stay tuned for reviews & more !

Another tasty pile of translated books.

Another tasty pile of translated books.

Eight Million New Yorks, Thirteen Million Tokyos

22 Jun

716I like big cities and I cannot lie. They’ve fascinated me for a long time. Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Lena Dunham, John Dos Passos, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sapphire, and Betty Smith all have wildly different visions of New York City. Sometimes I feel apologetic for writing about New York, because of some perception that most writing about New York is stereotypical and/or because New York stories dominate the landscape and are therefore overdone.

But, having grown up in Brooklyn, it is impossible for me not to write about it. And, as with any piece of writing, of course, the deeper you dig into something, the more you unpack a city or character’s complexities, the farther away you get from tired old narratives. Write the story only you can write, advice I picked up at the Tin House Writers Conference, has been enormously valuable to me in moving forward with stories and novels and embracing my own peculiar vision. New York is the city I know best and the one I can endlessly burrow into.

New York is not, however, the only city that fascinates me, whose identity offers multitudes. I fell head over heels in love with Tokyo and can’t wait to get back there one day to walk its ancient alleys and zoom by its blinking towers. Reading 1Q84 after experiencing Tokyo made palpable the dreamy and unsettling alternate universes cities offer.

Working on my first novel, I swam in a pile of books set in Buenos Aires. Fiction, memoir, reportage, poems. Anything I could get my hands on, starting with Borges. Then I was fortunate enough to take the leap and visit. That city’s mix of architectural traditions (Spanish, English, French) creates the strange sensation of being in South America and Europe simultaneously. And the simultaneity feels more real because of my different encounters with the city through literature.

Chicago is a place close to my heart, but whose literature I’m less steeped in. I love how the El downtown feels like a mash up of the outer boroughs of New York with stately old Chicago buildings. I know Saul Bellow writes Chicago, and he’s been on my to-read list for quite some time, but I’m wondering about all the literary versions of Chicago. Other than say, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, also in my to-read pile.

I’m wondering, too, about the literary versions of Seattle. Truth Like the Sun, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and Blueprints from the Afterlife have been in my to-read pile for some time. Now that I’ve lived in Seattle for over five years, I may find myself writing about it too. That is, after I get through novels two and three. One day.

What are your favorite writers who have particular visions for the cities they write?

Minnow by James E. McTeer II

10 Jun

Jacket-123x185For The Los Angeles Review, I wrote about the debut fabulist novel Minnow, winner of the 2014 South Carolina First Novel Prize and published by Hub City Press. Here’s how the review begins:

Landscape reigns in Minnow, the fabulist debut novel by James McTeer II. Set in South Carolina Lowcountry, the story follows a small boy, Minnow, on his quest to find medicine for his dying father. A pharmacist sends him to a witch doctor who in turn sends the boy off on an impossible journey. In exchange for Dr. Crow’s medicine, he must penetrate wild marshlands, swamps, and pine jungles in search of the grave of Sorry George—a witch doctor who once cursed fifty-two men with a fatal, grisly fever, and “[e]ach one of them coughed up some bloody thing, like a little thing that might have been alive once.”

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On Writing Difficult Material

2 Mar

Over on the Hugo House blog, I’ve got a mini-lesson previewing my upcoming one-day class at the Henry Art Gallery. The excerpt of class reading I chose comes from the opening of Mercè Rodoreda’s novel Death in Spring, which is the new book integrated into Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E(The first book was J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine.)

Death in Spring is a stunning novel, for its poetic language, lush imagery, and its tackling cruelty among humans as well as violence in nature. Rodoreda was a Catalan writer living during Franco’s dictatorship, and the novel can be read as a metaphor for that regime or for any oppressed society.The violence is also of mythological proportions, and the beauty of the language helps make reading it bearable. This technique was something that was made explicit for me by Rikki Ducornet speaking at an AWP panel on “Magic and Intellect”: “For a difficult book to be readable, find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating.”

The class will go beyond this topic, delving into the many layers of Ann Hamilton’s monumental show, on our relationship to animals, the sense of touch, and being touched–emotionally and intellectually–through the private act of reading. Death in Spring will definitely bring home this last idea of being touched–being moved in profound ways by another’s experience and creation.

On the Docket for 2015

2 Jan
A partial reading list for Novel #3.

A partial reading list for Novel #3.

In 2014, I focused my blogging attentions to 16 posts on writing prompts for PloughsharesNow that the series is done (though stay tuned–I have plans for them), here’s a little update on what I’ve got on deck for 2015.

What are your plans for 2015?

Triangular Relationships

1 Dec

My 15th set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog explores triangular relationships in fiction, with discussions of Mavis Gallant’s “Lena”, Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, and Peter Mountford’s The Dismal Science, and featuring Kathleen Skeels’ wonderfully suggestive drawings. Here’s how it begins:

In a previous blog post, I mentioned my difficulty with conflict and tension.  For this reason, I love triangular relationships, which bring up conflicting desires, competing loyalties, and dilemmas. All the things that make a juicy story go. When I was just starting out writing fiction, when my writing tended to be a formless blob and I learned that good writing needs a shape, a design, I turned to the idea of things happening in threes, and then I turned to triangles. As I learned along the way, there are many, many ways you might use triangles in your fiction.

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Readings Galore

31 Jul

I normally think of August as a sleepy month for zoning out and wandering into enormous spider webs, but this year, in Seattle, there are quite a few things happening, all of which are free. Here’s where I’ll be if you’d like to join:

*Thursday, August 7, 6 pm: ekFRANTICS, a reading of literature about imaginary art, with David Lasky and Arlo Smith at the Greg Kucera Gallery. This is being put on by the local press Babel/Salvage and coincides with the Pioneer Square Art Walk, one of my favorite art events in town. I’m reading selections from my novel-in-progress, Paralegal, about a 25-year-old visual artist who takes a job as a paralegal just before the economic crisis of 2008.

*Thursday, August 14, 7 pm: My Body is a Book of Rules launch at Richard Hugo House. My dear friend Elissa Washuta launches her debut memoir, which I happily pre-ordered yesterday. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and celebrate with her.

*Thursday, August 21, 7 pm: The Furnace Presents Chelsea Werner Jatzke at Hollow Earth Radio. Corinne Manning and I are launching the third (!) season of our quarterly reading series featuring one writer, reading one entire story, “with vigor.” Chelseas story is inspired by the Velvet Underground. Come see it live; it’s gonna be rad.

*Monday, August 25, 7 pm: Seattle Fiction Federation #1 at Richard Hugo House: Corinne is reading at this new series featuring fiction only. I’m excited for this new venue.

*Tuesday, August 26, 8 pm: Old Growth Northwest Reading & Opening Mic at the Jewel Box Theater: I’m a featured reader alongside Matthew Simmons and Melody Moberg. We’re all reading new work in response to the prompt “My first day on the job was much like my last,” plus something else of our choosing. Fun!

Then after a week in California for my best & oldest friend’s wedding, I’ve got one more very fun reading called Seattle Wage Slaves: Tales from the Grind, which features stories about work. I’m reading alongside Steve Barker, Sonora Jha, Michael Spence, and Wilson Diehl. That’s on Thursday, September 11 at 6:30 at Office Nomads. There will be spiked coffee and free donuts!

The Best AWP Ever

7 Mar

photo (9)Forgive my hyperbole, but I really enjoyed AWP this year. Maybe it was because this was the fourth I attended, so it was less overwhelming. Maybe it was because it was in Seattle, so I got to see so many friends and sleep in my own bed. Maybe it was because I had a chance to read alongside some really lovely writers. Maybe it was because I got to bring M to the book fair on Saturday and he made many tired exhibitors laugh. I *did* have violent heart palpitations the weekend before the conference as I stressed out over the three readings I had, but somehow these subsided by Tuesday, and by Thursday it was one big love fest. Here are some highlights.

Notes on the Practical

On Thursday I attended Kristen Young‘s panel Like Sand to a Beach: Bringing Your Book to Market. Jarrett Middleton of Dark Coast Press gave a really informative overview of the publishing process, especially when it comes to distribution. I had no idea how scary a pre-sales conference is (when a publisher pitches the merits of a title to all the big guns of a distributor and they try to poke holes in your marketing plan). I also didn’t know that a book has about 90 days or one quarter in a bookstore before it gets returned to the warehouse. Karen Maeda Allman of Elliott Bay Book Company gave the bookseller’s perspective. My favorite advice of hers about author events is to “invite everyone you know, encourage them to bring friends, and invite your ‘Kevin Bacon’ friend–the one who knows everyone.” All of her presentation slides are available on this beautiful Tumblr. Author Jonathan Evison emphasized building communities and taking the time to invite friends individually to your events rather than through mass emails. He also said, “Even if only six people come to your B & N event in south Austin, take the events coordinator to the Cheesecake Factory afterwards and get her drunk. She’ll keep selling your books.” Finally, Rachel Fershleiser of Tumblr gave an overview her experiences as a book publicist and of what she calls the “bookternet” — smart people being silly on the internet with sites like Last Night’s Reading.

A Controversial Panel

Friday morning I attended the panel Magic and Intellect. It was packed to the gills; magic must be popular! Something extraordinary occurred at this panel that so far one blogger I know of has recounted and it is worthwhile to read her account. I hope more people will write on it. I haven’t had the mind space to do so; I’m still processing. But I did come away from it feeling affirmed, that imaginative writing is necessary. Rikki Ducornet said, “The human mind & imagination cannot sustain itself in a constant state of emergency,” and Kate Bernheimer said, “Solutions in fairy tales often require radical acts. If you’re in an incestuous, abusive relationship, you might need to cut off your finger to use as a key to get out of a room.” And Rikki Ducornet offered this advice: “For a difficult book to be readable, ‘find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating'” (last quotation via Mackenzie Hulton on Twitter).

One Really Cool Thing from the Book Fair: Envisioning the Future of the Book

I cannot begin to describe the many, many books I acquired last week. So I will simply share one very cool thing, Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Book & Paper Expanded Artists’ Books. They displayed a hybrid artist book with heat-sensitive ink and an embedded iPad; if you pressed your hand on the page, different words erased and different words appeared on the iPad. What alchemy.

Readings Galore

I had the pleasure of reading fairy tales with Maya Sonenberg, Rikki Ducornet, and Valerie Arvidson. I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly large room fill with people eager to hear stories. Somehow each of us included food in our stories–I hurriedly jotted the phrase “saffron buns and candied salmon” as Valerie read–and that made me immensely happy.

At Canoe Social Club, I read with Andrew Ladd, Michael Nye, and Wesley Rothman. I’d finished Andrew’s book What Ends Tuesday night and it had me sobbing by the end. In addition to making me think about the issues that got me crying, it got me thinking about the books that also made me cry like that–Sophie’s Choice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn— so maybe I’ll write a separate post on that topic. I picked up Michael’s story collection Strategies Against Extinction; of course I will read the story “Sparring Vladimir Putin” first because obviously. I can’t wait. Wesley is working on a collection that may be called Sub-Woofer–keep your ears peeled!

Chris Abani and Chang-rae Lee did a wonderful reading and conversation. I already read The Secret History of Las Vegas (it’s powerful!), but hearing Chris read the opening and another section concerned with fairy tales gave me shivers.

I got to read with 13 others affiliated with the Univesity of Washington MFA and  the Cambridge Writers Workshop. We filled up Victrola’s back room and then most of us retired to Coastal Kitchen for drinks, snacks, and exquisite corpse. Coincidentally, I sat beside someone I’d only known through twitter and had no idea would be there. The future is now!

In the lovely subterranean Alibi Room, I got to see the UNC-Wilmington alumni reading, which featured several friends and which introduced me to the wonderful work of Rochelle Hurt and Kate Sweeney. You should check out their respective books, The Rusted City and American Afterlife. 

Finally, read Paul Constant’s take on the conference here, which includes high praise for my Furnace co-conspirator Corinne Manning and her Alice Blue chapbook “A Slow and Steady Eruption.” Hooray!

Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

5 Feb

My latest book-review-in-bullet-points is up on the Ploughshares blog today. Here’s how it begins:

Genre: literary mystery
With reference to: Little House on the Prairie

And: immigrant lit & ethnic lit
And: restlessness vs. belonging
Also: Manifest Destiny & Utopia

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This will be my last book review for the next little while as I gear up for a *new* series of blog posts on writing prompts using art, architecture, and a whole slew of other sources of inspiration. The first post goes live on Sunday and posts will appear every 2 or 3 weeks. Stay tuned!

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